Witnessing father's slaying shatters two young lives

September 27, 1992|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Jim Jim, 9, finally cried yesterday. His 10-year-old sister, Hope, still hasn't.

A day after their father, James R. Canty, was shot and killed in front of his children as they returned from a trip to a Northwest Baltimore video store, the trauma was just beginning to sink in. Mr. Canty, 40, was shot once in the chest Friday night by a gunman who moments before had tried to break into the family car.

A bystander heard the children screaming: "Daddy, don't die. Please, Daddy, don't die!" A short time later, Mr. Canty was pronounced dead at Sinai Hospital.

Yesterday morning, James Jr., Jim Jim to his family, wrote a letter to his father, wishing him back to life. "Dear Dad," he wrote in pencil on white paper. "I hope they caught that man who killed you. I love you and I hope you'll come back to human life!"

"Every day I see a different reaction," said Sandra Y. Canty, the children's mother. "I see them going from blaming themselves, to anger -- I want to hurt that guy -- to 'I don't believe it.' "

On Friday, the Cantys had decided to treat themselves to a relaxing evening of videos and Chinese food and ventured out despite the stormy weather. Mr. Canty left with the chil

dren while Mrs. Canty waited for them at home in the 5600 block of Cadillac Ave.

Each child picked out a video at the local store and on the way home, they stopped at a Chinese food carryout at the corner of Liberty Heights and Gwynn Oaks avenues. They walked back to the car, a 1984 Nissan hatchback, about 9:15 p.m.

"They saw a man standing on the driver's side of the car, like he was trying to do something with the window," Mrs. Canty said. "My husband remarked to my son, 'Is that guy at our car trying to get in?' My son told him, 'Yes, looks like it, Dad.' "

Mr. Canty walked ahead of his children toward the car, and the man turned as if to run. He took several steps, then turned, pulled a small-caliber handgun and fired.

"No words were exchanged. The guy pulled out a gun and shot him in the chest," Mrs. Canty said. Mr. Canty fell into the gutter.

Someone told the police that the children began screaming for their father, "Please, Daddy, don't die." A bystander took Jim Jim to a phone to call his mother. "He called me and said, 'Daddy has been shot,' " she said. She had a neighbor take her to the scene, about six blocks from home.

"I could see his chest rising up and down," but he was unconscious,Mrs. Canty said. "Once I got into the ambulance, they were beating on his chest." An ambulance attendant radioed the hospital that his heart had stopped.

"I believe my husband was dead upon arrival, but they took him in and worked on him," she said.

Meanwhile, the children were taken to police headquarters so detectives could question them. "They were real troupers," Mrs. Canty said.

Homicide detectives said the children are young, they were scared, and therefore could not provide a good description of the gunman. The police are hoping a witness will come forward. "Someone out there knows who did this," said Detective Gene Constantine. "We need phone calls, we need witnesses. We want to get this person."

Anyone with information about the shooting should call the homicide bureau at 396-2100.

Detectives said the gunman most likely wanted to break into the car and steal something inside, rather than steal the car. That the man shot Mr. Canty as he was fleeing makes the crime all the more senseless.

"There was no need for this man to die," said Detective Gary Dunnigan.

"This insanity has got to stop somewhere," said his partner, Detective Constantine.

Mr. Canty worked as a meter reader for Baltimore Gas & Electric for 16 years before a leg injury forced him to retire on disability five years ago. Since then, he worked odd jobs and helped out around the house.Most recently, he was nursing his wife -- who had a kidney transplant in January -- back to health.

"He took care of me. He did a lot with me and the kids," Mrs. Canty said. She described him as an easy-going man, who liked to bowl, garden and cook for his family. "There might be somebody, but I personally don't know anybody who didn't like him."

She made a plea for witnesses to come forward, so that the gunman may be brought to justice.

"He deprived my husband of his life, my children of their father and perhaps a normal life, and he deprived me of my husband, whom I loved very much," she said.

"I know that he is with God now," she said. "But if the guy is never caught, I hope he rots in hell."

Yesterday afternoon, the children were still in shock. Hope has her mother worried; she has yet to shed a tear.

But both children are drawing pictures as a way of expressing their feelings. Hope drew a picture with the word "family" on top, and rows of smiling people below. On the letter to his father, Jim Jim drew a picture of his father in an Orioles jersey.

"He wanted to go to the World Series with his dad," Mrs. Canty said. "His father always talked about them going together."

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